In the pre-dawn hours of June 27, 1874, twenty-nine people (some accounts say twenty-eight)
were in the town of Adobe Walls, a tiny settlement in the Texas Panhandle. This was
little more than an abandoned outpost, where enterprising businessmen had attempted
to re-kindle what had once been a small town and make a dollar off the buffalo hunters
which were then a major industry. The settlement consisted of two stores, a blacksmith
and a saloon.
Those present at Adobe Walls that night included James Hanrahan (the saloon owner),
a twenty year-old drifter by the name of Bat Masterson, and a buffalo hunter named
Billy Dixon. The only woman present was the wife of cook William Olds.
Around 2 a.m., the lodge pole, holding up the sod roof of the saloon gave way with
a loud crack. The men in the saloon as well as the other inhabitants immediately
set about repairing the damage. It was this act of Providence that caused the inhabitants
of Adobe Walls to be wide awake when the dawn attack by Indians began.
Just a few days before, Billy Dixon had ridden into the tiny settlement and told
of the death of his two friends, Dudley and Williams. He recounted to the saloon
patrons how the Comanches had propped their heads up so they could see what was happening
to them. He told of how their tongues and ears and been cut off, then their testicles
removed and stuffed into their mouths, before finally being sliced into ribbons and
dying a slow, torturous death.
Now, as the men worked to repair the damaged roof, some 700 Plains Indians, mostly
Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa, gathered nearby. The Indians were led by the Comanche
war chief, Quanah Parker, the son of a captured white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker.
Since they were already awake, Billy Dixon and Jim Hanrahan decided to get an early
start on the day’s buffalo hunting. Hanrahan sent Billy Ogg to retrieve the horses
that were picketed at nearby Adobe Walls creek. Ogg saw the Indians emerge from the
tree lined creek bank and ran back to the settlement to alert the others. About the
time he arrived, Dixon spotted the Indians as well and fired a shot into the air.
At first, Dixon believed the Indians to be after the horses, but then realized the
Indians were coming straight towards the settlement. Dixon and Ogg managed to join
the several others who had sought refuge inside the walls of the saloon. Thus the
surprise attack had failed. There were only two deaths in the initial attack, those
of the Sadler brothers who were sleeping in their wagon. They were killed and scalped
along with their dog who was killed and a patch of hide cut from the animal's side.
The initial attack very nearly carried the day. The buffalo hunters found themselves
in a close quarter combat, where their buffalo long guns were all but useless. Miraculously,
the inhabitants of Adobe Walls were able to stave off the onslaught of Indians with
their pistols. Once the Indians had killed all of the animals, leaving their victims
helpless to escape, they withdrew. The morning’s battle had resulted in four dead
settlers and an unknown number of Indians. The bodies of fifteen warriors were found
that were too close to the buildings for the Indians to have retrieved their bodies.
The next few hours saw the battle waged with rifle fire, which was to the buffalo
hunters’ advantage. The Indians had moved far enough away from the settlement to
allow the nine men at Hanrahan’s saloon to send two men to Rath’s store to resupply
their depleted ammo.
Quanah Parker’s medicine man, Esa-Tai, (literal name, coyote dung) was largely responsible
for the attack. The crazed medicine man had convinced Parker of their invincibility
for the attack. The attacks were sporadic thereafter and on what is believed to have
been the fourth day of siege, a small group of Indians had ventured to the edge of
a distant ridge to plan their next attack. Billy Dixon caught sight of them and asked
Bat Masterson to hand him his Sharps 50 caliber. The inhabitants laughed at Dixon,
exclaiming, They’re a mile away! Dixon drew down his aim, squeezed the trigger and
watched Esa-Tai, the medicine man, fall from his mount. It was this act that caused
the Indians to determine they could not compete with such weapons and they withdrew
from the fray.
Two weeks later, a team of U.S. Army surveyors would determine the distance of Dixon’s
famed shot to be 1,538 yards, or nine-tenths of a mile. Billy Dixon later gave up
buffalo hunting and became a scout for the U.S. Army. As a scout at the Buffalo Wallow
Fight, Dixon would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1893, he retired and
built a home on the Adobe Walls site. He died there on March 9, 1913 at the age of
On the fifth day, more than 100 men arrived at Adobe Walls. The Indians never returned.
The main significance of this fight is that it led to the Red River War of 1874–75,
which resulted in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians into reservation
in what is now Oklahoma.